We are sitting in a spacious, thatched gazebo by the swimming pool, sipping cold drinks delivered by a maid. A gardener putters around in the tropical shrubbery and in the well tended beds of exotic flowers. It is a day for water rationing in Managua, but the sprinkling goes on.
A pair of German attack dogs -- big and menacing killers bred first by Roman legionnaires in the years before Christ -- stalk the lawns. They were a gift from Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the West German foreign minister.
There is a gleaming Mercedes-Benz sedan in the garage, smaller cars and several armed guards in the driveway. The estate, high on a hill, affords a magnificent view of Managua at night, lights glistening as in a diamond necklace. It is cut off from prying eyes by a high stone wall interrupted only by a huge gate of plate steel.
Our host appears, a portly, fortyish, bespectacled man wearing a tailored safari suit made of gabardine. He orders a glass of water from the maid. He is Miguel D'Escoto, the foreign minister of the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.
D'Escoto was born in Hollywood, Calif., the son of a diplomat for the Anastasio Somoza government and, he says, the nephew, through some illegitimate union, of the renowned American poet Edna St. Vincent Millay.
He is a Roman Catholic priest in the Maryknoll order based north of New York. Although he no longer performs priestly functions because of a dispute involving the pope's prohibition on political activity by priests, he is affectionately called "padre" by his friends and colleagues in the leftist government here.
[At the order's Ossining, N.Y., headquarters yesterday, a spokesman said that Maryknoll Superior General William Boteler had delivered a Vatican ultimatum to D'Escoto on Wednesday, requiring him to decide within 15 days whether to resign his government post or have his priestly functions formally suspended. The spokesman said such a suspension would not affect his membership in the U.S.-based religious order.]
In those days in New York, D'Escoto recalled, he was a communicator and propagandist for the order, a man who was to find himself "in a situation not unlike that of the good Samaritan. As a priest I could identify more with the Levite who passed by the beaten and bleeding man in the ditch, as the Bible tells us, because of his duty to go to the synagogue in Jericho. . . . The second Levite passed him by but offered a prayer that he might recover. The third man was the Samaritan. He stopped and gave him help. I like the parable of the Samaritan for my own life."
D'Escoto, in a manner of speaking, was born again after visits to Nicaragua following the devastating earthquake of 1972. After celebrating a mass one day, he was approached by a Sandinista who asked his help in overthrowing the corrupt and hated Somoza government.
"He asked me," D'Escoto said, "to help get the Sandinista message across through the American media." He agreed to help and this, he recalled, was the turning point in his life, the time he became the good Samaritan.
He was later asked to join the ruling council of the Sandinistas in the full knowledge that the Catholic Church would disapprove and that he might have to sacrifice all that he held dear: "Maryknoll is my family. I worried about their reaction, I feared being ejected. I felt I would disobey God if I failed to act -- out of fear. I thought about the Vatican. But I remembered that it was the Levites in the synagogue who crucified our Lord."
So he joined the revolution and today is an eminent figure in the government, dealing with heads of state and foreign ministers whose names he recites with pleasure. There is one exception -- George P. Shultz, the American secretary of state, who snubbed him at a United Nations reception in New York.
"My vocation is service," he said. "Martin Luther King was the biggest influence in my life. . . . Through him, God helped me to understand God's will."
And, as it turned out, he was not separated from his Maryknoll family. Many of the priests visit his estate and spend the night and he entertains the bishop from Jinotega.
D'Escoto's view of the United States is not charitable. The Reagan administration's current insistence on democracy and pluralism in Nicaragua is hypocritical, he insists:
"The United States has never given a hoot about 'democratization.' It has only helped install tyrannical regimes. It is their policy. Today cynical use is being made of this 'democratization' issue in Nicaragua , while Reagan reiterates his support for financing contra murderers. The U.S. still supports dictators."
The interview has run its course. We rise to leave, the German dogs snarling at our heels. The "padre" insists that we inspect the house. It is a stunning, modern place of airy rooms, filled with furniture of carved woods and leather. And it is a magnificent gallery of art; in room after room the walls are covered with Latin American paintings, tapestries and sculptures.
There are gifts from heads of state, ambassadors and foreign ministers: a large pottery vase from Cuban President Fidel Castro, a beautifully finished wooden milk bucket from Sweden, a set of lacquered soup spoons and bowls from the wife of the Soviet ambassador, a magnificent curved dagger with a rhino horn hilt in a gold and silver scabbard. The dagger was a gift from Yemen, where such ceremonial weapons, the foreign minister said, sell for $12,000 to $20,000.
Someday, D'Escoto said, he hopes to create a museum for these earthly goods and works of art: "That is my dream."
Our companion, Angela Saballos, a handsome young woman in designer jeans who runs the Sandinista press center, told us later: "And he will donate his library, too."
As we left, I asked him a question: "Who owned this house before the revolution?" He smiled and replied: "The Central Bank."